I’d like to think that I’m not the only life on this earth plagued (or blessed) with “can’t make this stuff up” moments. Ever feel like unbelievably ironic, comical, and ridiculous things follow you around? My entire life has felt like one weirdo magnet of a roller coaster ride, where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Maybe it’s the midwestern welcoming smile at all times, or maybe I have an eye for the crazy. I can’t help but feel like the world is my oyster— my oyster full of odd coincidences, and weird happenings.
It could be because I’ve travelled some, and with traveling comes being forced into tight spaces with complete strangers. Let’s take planes for example. I used to feel immense pressure to get to know my seat mate. In the past few years, however, I’ve tried to be more of a mature thirty-something that allows silence, even if I perceive all silence as awkward and my personal invitation to fill. I’ve also noticed that people mostly want to be left alone in today’s travel world— cue all the pods.
This particular day, I stepped onto a flight headed to Atlanta and walked toward the back of the plane. People watching at its finest. I hoped my seat mate this time was just your run-of-the-mill business person with headphones. Lo and behold, I got to my row and knew immediately I’d entered a “can’t make this stuff up” moment. I saw an older lady dressed in fun fabric rummaging through a bag almost bigger than her. She seemed panicked. I would be too if I had to carry all those papers and everything else she had stuffed in this carry-all carry-on. I asked if I could help her. She quickly replied, through more aggressive pilfering, that she couldn’t find her cell phone. I offered to call the number to help find the dang thing and you would’ve thought I offered to teleport us to our destination. She was so thankful, and after a few attempts found the phone.
Intrigued, I asked about where she was headed. She told me she was en route to Ghana to bury her daughter who died days ago. A daughter this woman hadn’t seen in years because she had been providing for her family in America.
My initial feeling, besides ouch, is that of course I had to question the neighbor with the most devastating trip ever. I’m sure my entire countenance changed because our interaction went from slightly comical to painfully awkward all before takeoff. I wish I could tell you I had profound comforting words to say to this sweet mother. Or that I just hugged and cried with her, even if she was a stranger. I really would’ve liked to not be that person I so dread, but I panicked. Before I could even stop myself, I blurted it out.
“She’s in a better place.”
I couldn’t believe it came from my mouth since I’ve (loudly) loathed those people forever. Funny how uncomfortable moments with grief can turn me into that person on a dime.
If I could rewind the moment I would’ve just listened and stayed in the painful space, and maybe kept my mouth shut. If I were perfect, I might not have resorted to filling the silence with a token phrase to make the moment feel better. Either way, Miss Maku was an angel. By the end of the flight we had hugged, exchanged money at one point, and saved each other’s numbers.
All this to say, how hard is it to just stay and feel pain, hurt, and tragedy? How difficult is it to have a response to loss? To say this enneagram seven has a tough time is an understatement.
Let’s take one of the “sadder” books of the Bible for instance. I’d like to run away from Lamentations because it deals with “negative” emotions. It displays the consequences of sin, and heaps and heaps of desolation. If you’re in the melancholy mood, feel free to skim through Lamentations’ deserted city full of affliction with groans, weeping, and destruction. What I find most mind boggling, though, is that in the midst of trauma and terror, the narrator says things like: “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”
I don’t think this is Bible time’s version of “She’s in a better place.” You can tell there’s some gritty raw realness to these phrases, not just off the cuff go-to’s.
A particularly important key exists in the space between the writer’s “this is awful” and God’s “I am good.” There’s something to crying out and hearing from a loving God despite tears, loss, regret, trauma, and hopelessness. Despite what everyone else says and popular opinion. Despite our own selves.
There’s gold in the wrestling with devastation. It’s in the wrestling, the not giving up, and the staying that we uncover profound solid truths to stand upon when everything crumbles beneath us. It’s messy, imperfect, and it’s beautiful all at the same time.
The extent you let yourself experience pain or sorrow, is the extent you will be able to feel joy. What if the writer of this dreadful book had bought a proverbial flight, and gotten the hell outta dodge? We wouldn’t have gems like: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.”
If the Lamentations writer can stay, feel, and process, so can we. The challenge is to allow and be present in the process. There’s an impossible invitation to hold on tight with whatever strength we have, and choose to stay long enough to sift through, taste and see that God’s still good… somehow.
Here’s to the allowing. Here’s to entering into conversations with pain and staying long enough to hear the response. Here’s to not giving up or giving in. Here’s to emotionally healthy, balanced believers who aren’t afraid to hurt. Here’s to knowing there’s a process, and a promise beyond pain. Here’s to the space between. Here’s to discovering our own gems to hold onto despite, and in the midst. Here’s to plane rides, strangers, and “can’t make this stuff up” moments.